The following is a guest post by Michelle Mata from Austin, TX sharing her experience for the visit of Pope Francis to the US in September 2015.
Jesus’ representative on earth, the “Pope of the People”, as he is often called, inspires me; he inspired me to go all the way to Philadelphia, PA. Where I volunteered for the World Meeting of Families 2015 Congress & Festival of families. I prayed before booking any flights or lodging and I felt Jesus’ answer was an overwhelming “yes” to go to Philadelphia. There, I volunteered as a Spanish translator and as a Guest Services Volunteer. I had never been to the East Coast of the U.S. and my pilgrimage will forever change the view of humanity for me. We are becoming one; Hope and Love are alive.
I landed in Philadelphia in the early afternoon on Tuesday Sept 22nd. Before getting to the Philadelphia Convention Center to check in as volunteer, I briefly got lost, yet I now reason I got lost because God wanted me to meet certain people on the way there; to receive directions and kindness. God showed me His love and Holy Spirit in the people I met throughout my pilgrimage to WMOF 2015.
Day 1 – Sept. 22
I was assigned to work the airport hub arrivals (i.e. I was to help people from the airport get around Philadelphia, Yikes! I didn’t know Philadelphia!). The Volunteer Coordinator at the Convention Center suggested I not volunteer until tomorrow or volunteer at 30th St. Station. I felt the Spirit inside me say: ‘You have come to serve, start now’”; after that I felt a surge of energy, and my tiredness went away.
That evening I met 5 great people: Estrellita, a fellow nurse (we talked about life), Volunteer Captain Margo, fellow volunteer and now good friends Petria & Bill, and ~50 Bishops (including Bishop Barron) at 30th St. Station. The volunteer Captain Margo is Jewish (How cool is that? Not only Catholics were volunteering) and she treated me to a Philly cheesesteak!
I ate at Geno’s with Margo and Bill; God fed us and brought us together by sharing a meal, a fellow volunteer Bill was so gracious, showed me Philly landmarks while giving me a ride to my host family house. God’s Love; I think God didn’t want me lost in Philly again especially at night time and sent Bill to me. Thank God for Bill and Margo, they knew Philly and I translated what they were saying into Spanish.
Made another great friend in a fellow volunteer Petria that offered to house me if I needed. God sent shelter. Jesus, (what a cool dude He is!) Petria also helped me flag Bishop Barron to take a picture with him, and she is Baptist (so Awesome). Pope Francis’ love brings people of all faiths together. Bishop Barron, a most gracious man, agreed to a picture with me. I was so happy and it was very memorable. It was a quick encounter at the Amtrak area after I asked him for a picture, he said “Sure, just quick because I’m waiting for the train and I don’t want to miss it. I met him right before he and his fellow Bishops waited to board the train to Washington D.C. for the canonization mass for St. Junipero Serra.
Sept.23rd and 24th
I met Javier and Olga Jackie waiting for the rail going to host my family’s home. God sent me these great and kind people that I am now honored to call friends, to walk with me on my pilgrimage throughout most of the WMOF and Festival of Families. I had come alone physically, and they literally walked along with me for many parts of each day. I feel that God did not want me to be alone, and I am humbled by Jesus’ love through this loving couple.
The three of us shared many great experiences, including being at the WMOF Congress, hundreds of exhibitions, meeting Christopher West (of ToB Fame) at one of them, and waiting for 12 hours to catch a glimpse of our Pope Francis at the Festival of Families on Sept. 26th, sharing meals and laughter, and taking pictures with the 3 cardboard Popes!.
On Sept.23rd I randomly walked down a hall, saw a table with 3 lonely fliers – it was for a free Pro-life Symposium! Right up my alley since I serve in a pro-life ministry, and since I was a volunteer I did not have access to the Congress’ symposiums, I got excited for this free one. It was a great panel, and I took some video of it.I heard the witness of Karyme Lozano, a Mexican telenovela actress that got back to her faith and is now pro-life and living in the USA; it was incredibly inspiring.
The afternoon of the 24th, I met volunteers Jose and Richard, who almost miraculously were both from Texas! One from St. Louis parish in Austin and Jose from El Paso (now living in Philly). It was fun for the brief time we met. The funny thing was, that of all places, I didn’t think I’d be seeing anyone again in the Festival randomly, but I did. I saw Jose again at the Festival of Families, and he later shared some pics to share.
In the afternoon I met a good Samaritan, Daryl, while riding the rail. Daryl worked at a seminary and has priest friends, and I mentioned I would have loved a ticket to see Pope Francis closer. We had a brief talk about getting around Philadelphia via rail and life. We said goodbye, but exchanged numbers in case I got completely lost. He later texted me he had found a ticket for Pope Francis’ Remarks at Independence Hall for Saturday, but I ended up not being able to use it. Still, I was humbled by yet another good stranger taking the time to help me in different ways. On the same afternoon, I met fellow WMOF volunteers Mario and Michelle B. It was fun to be around these wonderful people. We shared pictures and good times. Michelle was from Philly and Mario from California (originally from Ecuador).
God’s love was felt, we worked together trying to help people around Philly by Michelle B. answering WMOF guests’ questions in English and Mario and I translating the directions to Spanish. That same evening, I was sitting on a bench waiting for a rail. Of all the rails and of all the times, I was sitting at that bench at that exact time and I met a couple from Poland; gentle people, good people. To make the long story short, they were THE couple my host family had been waiting for from Poland! Of all the People to meet, God wanted me to lead them to the house we were all staying. They are beautiful people that I had the pleasure of meeting and helping with direction with the small knowledge I had gained of the neighborhood. We went grocery shopping and shared good conversation.
Sept. 26th WMOF 2015/ Pope Francis
The day came! Up early at 5:30am arrived there at 7:30am.We three went (Javier, Olga J and myself) to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (18th and BFP), the kiosks weren’t even open yet ☹. We waited, happily for a long time, and the three ladies right in front of us next to the rail were all from Austin too. That was cool. We then parted for a little while since I didn’t have a special pass to go into the Festivals of Families up close.
Then, by the grace of God, and ingenuity & great friends I was able to be in that area after all. I just had to volunteer, and I was able to re-unite with Javier & Olga J. I also was pleasantly surprised to see other people from Austin! Michael and Kelli. I was at the 4th jumbotron from the stage.
We saw people smiling, excited the Pope was coming. Especially me, since during the daytime we missed the Pope pass by (we were logistically not in the right place ☹). It was already nighttime, and we were still waiting for the Pope motorcade to pass by. As soon and I heard the time had arrived, people screamed very loudly and sirens wailed. I was so overwhelmed with joy, peace, and love, then tears just started falling down my face. The lady in front of me also cried – it was very memorable.
Pope Francis’ love transcends, and you can actually feel it. His presence, though physically still far at that time, reaches all people and people react differently to his presence. It’s rather lovely and a gift to witness. Pope Francis, in my humble opinion, is a living Saint, a person all of us should model our lives after. He makes me proud to be Catholic, and his words are so wise.
Pope Francis’ love is palpable, and I truly believe he has Jesus’ Holy Spirit granted by God himself. Because of him, many people have come together, and he is igniting Hope and Love in peoples’ lives. I believe God is happy with him. Although, I only witnessed Pope Francis physical presence for 3.5 seconds in passing, it was well worth it. It’s just a feeling I cannot describe, and it has to be experienced. I thank God he allowed me to witness his presence, the WMOF talks, and great artist. I felt very happy. That night after the Festival of Families, I met 2 nice ladies, and they gave me great pics of the Pope!
The late night of the 27th, Marek and Agnes and I did impromptu Evangelization with our host, Anka. As we sat around in the living room, Anka said she opened her home to people who wouldn’t be able to afford outrageous hotel prices, and she wanted to show people can do good things even though they’re not religious. She stated she was not religious, did not believe in God, and she asked us about a big issue topic. So Marek, Agnes, and I answered her politely, and although she still state she will not change her belief, she said she respected our thinking. We were taken aback for a little with the big question she asked, but I believe we defended our faith to the best of our abilities and stressed to her that we Catholics love people and that any person is welcome in the Church that wants to learn or be part of the Catholic Church.
The talk lasted about 4 hours; going in circles, but it remained respectful. I told Anka and her husband Eric, that I was thankful for their gracious hospitality and care. I also felt love both Anka and Eric, and my heart tells me Jesus wanted me to feel the love of a grandmother and grandfather; love I had never felt from grandmother/grandfather before for various reasons, but mostly because most of mine are deceased. We vowed to stay in touch, and we have. There were tears and hugs saying goodbye.
For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
I wrote this piece to share my happiness with all of you, and to share the experience of Christ’s love I received in Philadelphia at the WMOF 2015 events. Also, I felt it important to convey that the Holy Spirit is alive in all people. I saw Jesus in all the people I met. Not one lacked God’s image, even though some stated were not religious or didn’t believe in God. I learned that even though we all have different views on some level, we all are brothers and sisters that love each other through the bond is God’s love and the Holy Spirit, which lives in all of us, and in his Angels & Saints. Blessed be God in all His people, His Angels and all His Saints. Please receive my love and all the love of Pope Francis and all people I met in Philadelphia send.
Sincerely and with much love,